Well, it's that time a year again when house fires are more common, and people wait until last minute to order firewood and have their chimneys cleaned. People also grab whatever supplemental heat devices they have handy, and most likely havn't been used since last winter. Those include electric space heaters, kerosene heaters, oil filled heaters, etc.
It's not too late to have your chimney checked. ( depending on where you live).
Many minor defects in a chimney or firebox can lead to major problems if ignored.
Starting at the top, check flue liners for cracks, nests, cresote build up, offsets, shifted flues. Then check the mortar cap around the flues for cracks that can allow water to drip through. Check the brick or stone above the roof line for cracks. A lightning strike might have gone unnoticed, caused a crack, and that can also allow water in. Next, check the flashing. If the sealer against the brick has gotten old or hard, it can lose it's bond and allow water to run down inside. You might want to look in your attic for signs of water leaks around your chimney.
Usually, the rest of your chimney is inside of framing and sheetrock and is not visible. So go to your firebox. Have a flashlight when you do this. Open your damper. Shine the light up and see if you see creosote buildup, sign of bird or squirrel nests, cracks, etc. Open and close damper to make sure it's working properly. Then check outside air vent if your fireplace has one. Then check for cracks where the firebrick meet the stone or brick profile on both sides, and also look at the area above the firebox opening. That is where many masons forget to parge, and smoke can be drawn up through any cracks you see there. If you see any openings, they need to be parged. Type S mortar, refractory mortar, or furnace cement can be used there. Actually, basic Type N mortar is better than nothing. A 1 gallon can filled with mortar should be more than enough to parge and seal this area.
If you have a basement, many times there is a clean out door installed there. Open it and check to see how much ash is in there. If the firebox above has an ash dump, many people will sweep ashes in and let them fall into basement. After a while, if those ashes get damp, you will begin to smell them.
If you have a woodstove in the basement, the metal flue pipe is usually connected to a masonry thimble, or round flue. Check the condition of pipe, the connections, creosote leaking from connections, etc. You should really pull the metal flue pipe out of the round flue, then check for ash buildup inside. Also, check the round flu for cracks.
If you don't want to do this yourself, call your local chimney sweep, or a local bricklayer that has experience building fireplaces and knows what to look for.
Typical brick chimney and looking down a flue from the top.
Jeff Pearl | Lic in VA
Remax Distinctive | McLean VA
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